The study concluded that firearms are largely in responsible hands

Guns are safe and in good hands: study

Firearms in the hands of legal shooters are very safe, ranking many times ahead of vehicles, water, poisons and even ladders in a study of accidental deaths, according to research carried out by NZ’s Council of Licenced Firearms Owners.

Australia and New Zealand were particularly safe places for firearm use compared with Canada and the USA, the countries considered in the study, with Australia recording just one accidental death by firearm for every 2 million people.

New Zealand and Canada recorded roughly one per million population, and the US was twice that number, although statistical studies would generally regard such figures as ‘statistically insignificant’ in most comparisons.

The study’s author, COLFO chairperson Michael Dowling, used figures from 2008 and separated intentional deaths from the figures in order “to measure the public safety of responsible firearm owners against their own actions, accidental death and injury, and not against the actions of criminals”.

He concluded that in New Zealand, “firearms are largely in responsible hands”.

He found New Zealanders and Australians were roughly 130 times more likely to die after falling from a ladder than by being accidentally shot.

Falls accounted for more deaths than vehicles in New Zealand in 2008, while the numbers were only slightly higher for vehicles in Australia.

“Given the high number of deaths by falling, I am surprised a licensing system has not been suggested for ladders,” Mr Dowling said.

He had previously calculated that New Zealand shooters clocked almost 9 million hours of loaded firearms use before a single accidental death occurred, on a per 100,000 basis.

Reporting his findings in the autumn issue of NZ’s Hunting and Wildlife, Dowling identified three ways to further improve firearm safety.

He said responsible and safe handling practice could be taught through courses such as those offered by the Mountain Safety Council.

“If these courses were offered in schools it would reduce the number of airgun accidents, as defensive driving courses have reduced youth motor vehicle accidents,” he said.

The return of numerous local ranges, which were once a common part of every community, would also allow for stronger training regimes.

Dowling also recommended rewarding compliant behaviour. People who demonstrated an interest and responsible behaviour should be allowed access to firearms as ‘fit and proper’ people.

“Rewarding the right behaviour rather than banning access is preferable,” he said. “Banning can create a decision crossroad for young people to head down a criminal path if it is their only opportunity to pursue an interest.

“Trying to control accidents through legislation is expensive and ineffective,” he added.


Number of deaths NZ  Aus  Canada  USA 
Total unintentional deaths 1305 5410 10,234 123,706
Falls 473 1412 3098 22,631
Motor vehicle 365 1519 2628 42,031
Poisoning 105 784 1441 29,846
Drowning 57 169 275 3443
Unintentional firearm 4 10 20 613
Firearm related total 7 32 217 31,724




Deaths per 100,000 population NZ Aus Canada USA
Unintentional Deaths 30.6 25.5 30.7 41.0
Falls 11.1 6.7 9.3 7.5
Motor vehicle 8.6 7.2 7.9 13.9
Poisoning 2.5 3.7 4.3 9.9
Drowning 1.3 0.8 0.8 1.1
Unintentional firearm 0.09 0.05 0.1 0.2
Firearm related total 0.16 0.15 0.7 10.4




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.